Self Care At Work

As a Massage Therapist I’m trained to notice patterns in the body. How we compensate for an injury or how decreased range of motion in one area of the body can affect another. The biggest pattern I see is tension and pain in the neck, shoulders and low back caused by working at a computer. There’s been a push recently to recognize the way our bodies respond to the technology we use and the postures that are associated with it. From ergonomic keyboards to standing desks, there are a slew of products out there to help you fend off soreness. But what to do when your budget or office rules don’t allow for big changes? Today I’ll walk you through things you can do to feel your best at work.

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To Stand Or To Sit

A few years ago there was a swirl of media over how sitting will lead to our eventual demise. To read the headlines, you’d think that planting your butt in a chair was one step away from planting it in a coffin. If you wanted to live to see your startup get venture capital, you needed to stand all day or better yet, get a treadmill desk! The standing desk fever has cooled, but that doesn’t mean we should all melt into our office chairs for 8 hours a day.

Is sitting all day good for you? Nope. Is standing all day good for you? Nah. As with many opposites in life (salad vs. chocolate) it’s best to find a middle ground. The important thing is to not spend too much time in any one position. If you’re seated at a desk, set a (quiet) timer to go off every 30 minutes or so. At that point, stand up and MOVE. Walk to the water fountain, stretch, walk to someone else’s office to ask them a question rather than texting or emailing them, close the office door if you have one and have a 30 second dance party. Get that blood flowin’ regularly throughout the day. If you’re protesting me on this, thinking “my boss will never let me take a break that often!” there have been multiple studies showing that taking “microbreaks” actually increases productivity. So there.

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If you choose to have a standing desk, get a convertible one so that you can go between standing and sitting throughout the day. Again, standing in one position for hours isn’t great so set that timer and move every 30 minutes.

Set Yourself Up For Success

Whether you choose to sit or stand, having your workplace set up ergonomically (safe and efficient for your body) is key.

Here’s a little experiment. Call a co-worker over and hand them your phone. Sit at your desk as you normally would when you’ve been working for a little while and have that coworker take your picture. Now, how closely does that posture and set up match this one:


Let’s go over it head to toe:

  • Top of the monitor is at eye level and at least an arm’s length away

  • Shoulders are neutral

  • Elbows at 90 degree angles so the forearms are parallel to the floor - using an armrest or a wrist pillow of available

  • Resting against back of the chair (not ram-rod straight!) - the chair has good lumbar support or a small pillow at the low back

  • Hips are at 90 degrees or slightly larger

  • Feet slightly ahead of knees and flat on the ground or on a foot rest

How does your picture measure up? What changes could you make to get your set up closer to the ergonomical ideal? Often it’s just about adjusting the height of your chair and monitor and having something to place under your feet (whether that’s a box, a stack of books, or an actual foot rest.)

A note about using yoga balls for chairs - they often are not tall enough, even those with the chair attachment. While they are good for your core, sitting in them all day with poor computer alignment isn’t going to help anything!

Now here’s the kicker - where are your head and shoulders in that picture? Is your head hovering somewhere over your keyboard? Is your chest a bit sunken in as your shoulders roll forward? No, I’m not stalking you. This is “forward head posture” and it’s running rampant! Think about the strain this posture puts on your muscles - those in the back of your neck trying desperately to hold onto your head that’s basically dangling over a cliff, those in your upper back that are constantly stretched to their limit as your shoulders continue their quest to meet in the middle of your chest, and of course those in your chest that have been shortened for so long without so much as a suggestion of a stretch that the stubborn buggers have just decided to stay that way for good. Ouch.

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Rehab For Slouchers

This WikiHow article has a bunch of fantastic ways to combat this, but my favorite is the doorway stretch. Find a doorway, put your hands on either side, and take a step through. This will stretch your chest muscles. Take good deep breaths and stay in that stretch for 30 seconds to a minute. Remember how your posture feels after you do that - you’re probably standing a little taller, head back where it should be over the neck and shoulders back. Awesome, right? Now sit back down trying to keep some of that goodness in tact. Repeat several times throughout the day.

You didn't think I'd write a whole blog post without saying anything about massage, did you? Getting regular massage can help alleviate the pain that has already set in over your career at a desk, and prevent more from starting. So sit up and add "book my next massage" to your to-do list!


Cornell University Ergonomics - Sitting and Standing at Work
Huffington Post - 5 Science-Backed Ways Taking A Break Boosts Our Creativity

Molly Kerrigan